Amazing Omani Women Mean Business: Mabrook!

mariam-belhaf.jpgIn Oman, a traditionally male-dominated society, women are beginning to make their mark in the workforce.

One woman who's carving out a niche in business is Mariam Belhaf, who sells products made from frankincense.

Frankincense is an ancient scent, native to Oman. It's as old as the Bible and was one of the gifts the Three Wise Men brought baby Jesus.

But for Mariam Belhaf, it's also a modern reality and her lifetime passion.

The 45-year-old mother of seven, now a grandmother, started making frankincense in her own house. Now, she runs five shops in the capital, Muscat.

"I started in 1997, but before I work from [my] house -- I had no shop yet," she told CNN.

She opened her first small shop in 2003.

Belhaf is one of a small but growing number of women entrepreneurs in this Middle Eastern nation.

While frankincense is usually manufactured in factories, Belhaf prefers the manual route, spending long hours hand making oil, creams, incense and perfumes.

She comes from a wealthy background, but that's irrelevant, she told CNN. She wants to be a successful entrepreneur on her own.

''I want to prove that a woman can do everything," Belhaf said. "She can make success by herself, she can prove herself by her own business. I don't need people to help me. So this is my secret.''

Belhaf's success represents a major change for this generation of Omani women. Her mother did not even attend school. But this is still a male-dominated society, where there are nearly a third more men than women.

It wasn't until the mid-1990s that women were invited to enter the work force, encouraged by the country's ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. He also allowed them to enter politics.

According to Oman's Ministry of Information, the country has three female cabinet ministers, and about a third of its civil servants are women.

The U.N. Program on Governance in the Arab Region describes Oman as "one of the more progressive states in the Gulf region in the area of women's rights."

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By Rima Maktabi

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